Strength and Inspiration

I had the honour of emceeing/hosting (along with my brother Jason) the “Celebration of Life” for my late Uncle Junie this past Wednesday. Tragically, Uncle Junie (my mom’s brother) passed away on May 14 at Vancouver General Hospital after suffering a brain aneurysm while at Revs Bowling and Entertainment Centre in Burnaby.

It was almost fitting that Uncle Junie passed away in the company of good friends in a place he loved. It is strikingly similiar to how my Dad passed away in October 2004: while on the Burnaby Mountain Golf Course, playing the game he loved with some of his closest friends.

It was our experience with putting Dad’s memorial service together that likely led Deb (Uncle Junie’s wife) to ask Jason, Mom and me to assist with Uncle Junie’s service. We were glad to help and were grateful that our experience from our own family tragedy 5 years ago could be beneficial in assisting the family.

It was a simple yet powerful memorial service at the Firefighters Conference Centre in Burnaby, as close to 300 family members and friends gathered to remember a good man.

I had the privilege of opening the service with a prayer, in which I thanked God for the outpouring of love shown by the family and friends gathered, and asked for His blessing upon the family as they cope with their loss. I remarked that sometimes it’s hard to understand why bad things happen to good people, but that we must ultimately put our faith and trust that God’s will is being done, and that we must be obedient to it. Death can often lead to more abundant life, and God will never bring us to something that we can’t get through.

(As an aside, a couple of my mom’s friends later asked her if I was a minister. I think Mom answered by saying I wasn’t an ordained minister, rather a lay Youth Minister in the Catholic Church.)

Jason and I went on to invite family members and friends to share stories and memories. It was nice to hear how Uncle Junie had touched so many lives.

But the highlight for me was when Jessica (Uncle Junie’s 14 year-old daughter) spoke. Even though we’re not super-close, I’ve always felt a special bond with my cousin, ever since she served as our Flower Girl for our wedding way back in July 2000 (Jessica was only 5 at the time).

Jessica’s tribute was simply amazing: it was emotional, heartfelt, and powerful. As I watched and listened to Jessica deliver her words, I was overcome with pride and emotion. I still can’t figure out how she made it through without breaking down (Jason and I both broke down when delivering tributes to Dad at his service in 2004). Jessica’s stories ranged from funny: “I was counting on you to beat up my boyfriends” to heart-wrenching: “I can’t believe you won’t be there to walk me down the aisle on my wedding day.”

Through it all, Jessica remained composed, a true pillar of strength. A quick glance at the audience suggested that they weren’t doing as well (me included). There was barely a dry eye in the room.

Afterwards, I told her that she did a wonderful job…that she did something many adults couldn’t have done…regardless of their public speaking skills. She remarked that she had practiced reading it through close to 10 times until she could get through the entire thing without stopping.

Later that night, still marveling, I sent Jessica a quick message saying: “Hey cousin…I was so proud of you today. You are so strong…thanks for the inspiration.”

To which Jessica humbly replied: “Thanks cuz! I did it for my daddy, I think he helped me out a bit.”

Without a doubt.

My New Training Regimen (According to Coach Mike)

On Thursday night I played my first-ever game of organized hockey with the Holy Rollers roller hockey team, comprised predominantly of guys from our home church of St. Paul’s in Richmond. Initially, I declined Mike’s invitation to play on the team (as much as I wanted to), citing a few reasons including time and health issues. However, a roster spot opened up recently and after some discussions with (and sucking up to) my lovely wife Gail, I was slotted in the last roster spot.

Needless to say, I was very excited and nervous prior to the game. I am the oldest guy on the team, but have the least amount of hockey experience. Thus, my plan going into the game was to play smart hockey and not get seriously hurt. Generally, I think I succeeded in both, though I had 2 horrible giveaways (one of which resulted in a goal against us).

One thing I didn’t anticipate was just how fast things happen out there. In warm-up, I went for a good skate and felt really good. But as soon as the game started, the intensity picked up, and I felt rushed anytime I actually made it to the puck before an opposing player.

My teammates were really amazing, as they encouraged me and gave me pointers throughout the game. Things like “Try and be over there when this happens” or “Try not to block a slap shot with your face.” (Both were actual comments from the game).

We won the game 3 – 2, riding some strong goaltending and the offense of Jon, Dave, and Mike. My stat line was quite unassuming: no goals, no assists, no shots on goal, no penalty minutes, an even plus-minus, 6 wipe-outs, and 1 near decapitation (the afore-mentioned shot block attempt).

I was very happy we won, and only mildly satisfied with my performance. Cardio was certainly an issue as I anticipated, as I don’t really exercise regularly (unless you call nightly street hockey with the boys regular exercise).

So it came as no surprise that I got this email from Coach Mike (who admittedly has been my biggest advocate) a mere hour after getting home (I’ve made a couple of edits for clarity):

“Alright, time to get you in shape. Here is your training and eating regimen for the next week. Please follow these rules closely.

1- 20 minutes of jogging a day. We’ll start you slow and then get you up to 30 minutes in a couple of weeks.

2- No pop…I don’t care if it’s Sunday- this ain’t Lent! No pop!

3- No McDonalds.

4- No hanky panky the day of or before games.

5- 15 minutes of stretching every day before you go to bed and when you wake up in the morning.

6- Must get 7 hours of sleep a night.

7- 10 jumping jacks, 20 push ups and 20 sit ups a day.

In a couple of weeks we’ll also get you breaking down game film.

Talk to you soon.

Your humble coach,

Knowing Mike as well as I do, I know that he’s very serious about the email…otherwise he wouldn’t have sent it to me. In looking at the 7 steps to better fitness, I think I can realistically pull off 5 of the 7.

I’ll let you figure out which ones will be tough for me.

In the meantime, I better get cracking! Something tells me this will be harder than the Wii Fit!

Stretching the Truth

Lying is bad.

That certainly shouldn’t come as a revelation to anyone. After all, John 8:32 says that “The truth will set you free” and the 8th Commandment states: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.”

From a secular perspective, we here axioms like “Honesty is the best policy” and sayings like “Liar, liar, pants on fire” further reinforcing the fact that lying is bad.

But is lying ever justified?

Some would argue it’s acceptable if you are trying to protect someone or something you love. Or maybe when it’s the best option in choosing the lesser of two evils. And what about for poker players? Or for reality TV contestants?

Whether you call it a fib, a white lie, or stretching the truth…it happens all the time. It’s simply human nature. And sometimes it’s certainly not malicious: for example it’s very easy to exaggerate a bit when telling a story or in trying to convince your listener of something.

I recently was privy to two extraordinary cases of stretching the truth, courtesy of my two wonderful sons at their indoor track meet at St. Paul School earlier this month.

It was a fun, spirited and loud morning inside of the school gym as all of the kids from kindergarten to grade 3 participated in numerous relays and races.

Sean excelled in almost all of them, especially in those requiring hand-eye coordination (ie. bouncing a basketball, dribbling a soccer ball).

Jake did well also, notably crushing the competition in a race that saw him run, scoot under desks, and jumping through hoops (see the video here ).

After Jake completed the above-mentioned race, I overheard him “holding court” as his classmates complimented him on his athletic prowess. They were asking him why he was so good at that particular race.

“Oh, I practice at home every day” Jake replied in an obvious stretch of the truth. “My dad brings out the desk and hoop for me so I can do it.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, but I also didn’t want to ruin his moment in the spotlight.

Later on, they called on a few parents to demonstrate the team relay, in which the students had to pass the baton to each other after running around the gym. For our parent demonstration, and I had the honour of going first.

Channeling my inner-Donovan Bailey, I exploded from the invisible starting blocks and raced around the gym, even sneaking in a tricky behind the back maneuver with the baton while I was running. I actually ran quite quickly, and by the time I handed the baton off I was looking for a defibulator.

Later on, Sean told me that his friends couldn’t believe how fast his Daddy was. (I think they were just surprised I made it to the end without collapsing). Sean gave truth a test when he told them that I was a champion sprinter in high school.

According to Sean, my nickname back in the day was “The Bullet.”

Come to think of it…that might not be that much of a stretch. Short. Sharp. And solid as a rock.

Ah, forget it. I’ll just stick to Sushi Master.

All for Nothing

After a tumultuous season in which we saw an unbelievable finish to the regular season, a record-breaking losing streak, the biggest free agent signing in our team’s history, an injury to our all-star goalie, and tragic deaths, the Canucks are out of the NHL playoffs. Depending on your expectations, you could consider this season a mild success or a massive disappointment.

The same can be said about my friendly wager with Orin and Shannon of Oddwalk Ministries. After winning the original wager, I accepted their proposal to go double or nothing. When the Blackhawks eliminated the Canucks in 6 games, it left an empty feeling in my stomach and a bitter taste in mouth.

Why did I accept their double or nothing proposal? Was it greed? Foolishness? Or, as I originally stated, was it in the spirit of Christian brotherhood?

Regardless, our wager made from some lively interaction, creative videos, playful and veiled (and not-so-veiled) shots at each other, and a few extra hits on our respective websites. Some of my friends even left intimidating messages on Oddwalk’s website (thanks Dave, Faye, and Krissy for the support…haha). And I think we almost got Anne Marie and Ben hooked on hockey when they were here for Youth Day!

And as I promised to Oddwalk, I will remain gracious in defeat as I would have been in victory. Even if I still can’t figure out their connection to Chicago (haha). Imagine if the Canucks had won…it might have gone triple or nothing with Orin and Shannon suddenly claiming they had family in Detroit or Anaheim.

Just kiddin boys…it was a lot of fun. And to remind everyone just how much fun it was, take a walk down memory lane with these links:

-Oddwalk’s opening salvo (April 16):

-Clay’s opening shot (April 17):

-Oddwalk after Game 2 of the first round (April 18):

-Clay offering O Canada suggestions after the Canucks had swept the Blues (April 22):

-Oddwalk conceding defeat (April 22):

-Oddwalk’s proposal to go double or nothing for Round 2 (April 29):

-Clay’s acceptance of the offer (April 29):

-Clay posts a video from Youth Day of 500 teens singing O Canada to inspire Oddwalk (May 1):

-Oddwalk posts their video reply, seeking the answer to “What is a Canuck?” (May 5):

-Oddwalk is off the hook (May 12):

Sean’s First Communion

Today Sean received Jesus Christ in the Eucharist for the first-time. Needless to say, it was a very momentous occasion for our family, one that we have been looking forward to for a long time.

It was extra-special because Gail has been teaching Sean in his grade 2 class at St. Paul School since January, when Gail went back to teaching after taking maternity leave for
Kayla. As well, Gail has been running parent meetings throughout the spring in order to help prepare the families for this special day.

The First Communion program at St. Paul is quite interesting actually, as Father Luterbach likes to hold “two First Communion celebrations” for the kids. At today’s Mass, the kids were to sit with their families so they could truly focus on the Sacrament. Then, at next week’s Mass, the kids will dress up in their white robes and sit together as a class to the delight of invited family and friends.

Thus, today’s Mass was indeed less distracting for Sean, despite Kayla’s best efforts to entertain him and everyone in our surrounding pews. I was very excited for Sean and I was gushing with anticipation as Mass ensued. To his credit, Sean played it calm and cool and seemed really focused on the Sacrament.

As we made our way down the aisle towards the altar, I followed Sean while carrying a sleeping Jake on my shoulder and chest. Sean and I both received from Father Luterbach and then made our way back to the pew. As I knelt next to Sean, I held his hand and prayed with him, all while holding the 40-pound sack of son on my other side. I was overcome with emotion and pride, and my eyes started to water with tears of joy.

“How do you feel Sean?” I asked.

“Really good,” Sean replied as he rubbed his tummy, “I feel like I’m full. And I was hungry before Mass.”

Sean’s answer caught me off-guard, and the skeptic in me wondered if he was just saying something to make his youth minister-Daddy happy. So I asked him what he meant.

“I feel fulfilled. Like I don’t need anything else right now.”

Sean’s answer went beyond satisfying-to-me. I kissed him on the forehead and told him how proud I was of him. We continued to pray together, and I thanked God for Sean’s child-like faith that humbles me, affirms me, and inspires me.